Report Places Even Odds on Hoover Dam Running Dry by 2017

March 12, 2008


Photo from below the Hoover Dam shows the massive arcing concrete dam looming over the canyon. A concrete building near the dam and adjacent concrete structures extending on both sides of the canyon form the power plant.

The states of Arizona, California, and Nevada could lose a large source of electricity if the Hoover Dam lacks enough water to produce power.
Credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

A new study warns that the 2,080-megawatt Hoover Dam could have too little water to produce power within the next decade. The study by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography concludes that the growing demand for water in the West, combined with reduced runoff due to climate change, are causing a net deficit of nearly 1 million acre-feet of water per year in the Colorado River system, which includes Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Lake Mead feeds the Hoover Dam, and the researchers estimate a 50% chance that Lake Mead could drop too low for power production by 2017. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Hoover Dam is one of the largest hydropower facilities in the nation, producing enough power to serve 1.3 million people in Arizona, California, and Nevada.

With recent droughts in the West, the Colorado River system is currently operating at only half of its capacity, and the researchers estimate that the system is already operating at a deficit. They find a 50% chance that Lake Mead could run completely dry by 2021 if the climate changes as expected and if future water demand is not curtailed. The research paper has been accepted for publication in "Water Resources Research," a publication of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). See the AGU press release and the description of Hoover Dam on the Bureau of Reclamation Web site.